This article was published on my 23rd birthday. I remember stumbling across it just before I turned 25. I thought it’d be nice to revisit the article. Word to @SethBrundle.
The 75 Skills Every Man Should Master
A man can be expert in nothing, but he must be practiced in many things. Skills. You don’t have to master them all at once. You simply have to collect and develop a certain number of skills as the years tick by. People count on you to come through. That’s why you need these, to start.
PLUS: The 25 Skills Every Man Should Know
By Tom Chiarella
A Man Should Be Able To:
1. Give advice that matters in one sentence. I got run out of a job I liked once, and while it was happening, a guy stopped me in the hall. Smart guy, but prone to saying too much. I braced myself. I didn’t want to hear it. I needed a white knight, and I knew it wasn’t him. He just sighed and said: When nobody has your back, you gotta move your back. Then he walked away. Best advice I ever got. One sentence.
2. Tell if someone is lying. Everyone has his theory. Pick one, test it. Choose the tells that work for you. I like these: Liars change the subject quickly. Liars look up and to their right when they speak. Liars use fewer contractions. Liars will sometimes stare straight at you and employ a dead face. Liars never touch their chest or heart except self-consciously. Liars place objects between themselves and you during a conversation.
3. Take a photo. Fill the frame.
4. Score a baseball game. Scoring a game is an exercise in ciphering, creating a shorthand of your very own. In this way, it’s a private language as much as a record of the game. The only given is the numbering of the positions and the use of the diamond to express each batter’s progress around the bases. I black out the diamond when a run scores. I mark an RBI with a tally mark in the upper-right-hand corner. Each time you score a game, you pick up on new elements to track: pitch count, balls and strikes, foul balls. It doesn’t matter that this information is available on the Internet in real time. Scoring a game is about bearing witness, expanding your own ability to observe.
5. Name a book that matters. The Catcher in the Rye does not matter. Not really. You gotta read.
6. Know at least one musical group as well as is possible. One guy at your table knows where Cobain was born and who his high school English teacher was. Another guy can argue the elegant extended trope of Liquid Swords with GZA himself. This is how it should be. Music does not demand agreement. Rilo Kiley. Nina Simone. Whitesnake. Fugazi. Otis Redding. Whatever. Choose. Nobody likes a know-it-all, because 1) you can’t know it all and 2) music offers distinct and private lessons. So pick one. Except Rilo Kiley. I heard they broke up.
7. Cook meat somewhere other than the grill.
Buy The Way to Cook, by Julia Child. Try roasting. Braising. Broiling. Slow-cooking. Pan searing. Think ragouts, fricassees, stews. All of this will force you to understand the functionality of different cuts. In the end, grilling will be a choice rather than a chore, and your Weber will become a tool rather than a piece of weekend entertainment.
8. Not monopolize the conversation.
9. Write a letter.
So easy. So easily forgotten. A five-paragraph structure works pretty well: Tell why you’re writing. Offer details. Ask questions. Give news. Add a specific memory or two. If your handwriting is terrible, type. Always close formally.
10. Buy a suit.
Avoid bargains. Know your likes, your dislikes, and what you need it for (work, funerals, court). Squeeze the fabric — if it bounces back with little or no sign of wrinkling, that means it’s good, sturdy material. And tug the buttons gently. If they feel loose or wobbly, that means they’re probably coming off sooner rather than later. The jacket’s shoulder pads are supposed to square with your shoulders; if they droop off or leave dents in the cloth, the jacket’s too big. The jacket sleeves should never meet the wrist any lower than the base of the thumb — if they do, ask to go down a size. Always get fitted.
11. Swim three different strokes. Doggie paddle doesn’t count.
12. Show respect without being a suck-up. Respect the following, in this order: age, experience, record, reputation. Don’t mention any of it.
13. Throw a punch. Close enough, but not too close. Swing with your shoulders, not your arm. Long punches rarely land squarely. So forget the roundhouse. You don’t have a haymaker. Follow through; don’t pop and pull back. The length you give the punch should come in the form of extension after the point of contact. Just remember, the bones in your hand are small and easy to break. You’re better off striking hard with the heel of your palm. Or you could buy the guy a beer and talk it out.
14. Chop down a tree. Know your escape path. When the tree starts to fall, use it.
15. Calculate square footage. Width times length.
16. Tie a bow tie.
Step 1: Make a simple knot, allowing slightly more length (one to two inches) on the end of A.
Step 2: Lay A out of the way, fold B into the normal bow shape, and position it on the first knot you made.
Step 3: Drop A vertically over folded end B.
Step 4: Double back A on itself and position it over the knot so that the two folded ends make a cross.
Step 5: The hard part: Pass folded end A under and behind the left side (yours) of the knot and through the loop behind folded end B.
Step 6: Tighten the knot you have created, straightening, particularly in the center.
17. Make one drink, in large batches, very well.
When I interviewed for my first job, one of the senior guys had me to his house for a reception. He offered me a cigarette and pointed me to a bowl of whiskey sours, like I was Darrin Stephens and he was Larry Tate. I can still remember that first tight little swallow and my gratitude that I could go back for a refill without looking like a drunk. I came to admire the host over the next decade, but he never gave me the recipe. So I use this:
• For every 750-ml bottle of whiskey (use a decent bourbon or rye), add:
• 6 oz fresh-squeezed, strained lemon juice
• 6 oz simple syrup (mix superfine sugar and water in equal quantities)
To serve: Shake 3 oz per person with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glasses. Garnish with a cherry and an orange slice or, if you’re really slick, a float of red wine. (Pour about 1/2 oz slowly into each glass over the back of a spoon; this is called a New York sour, and it’s great.)
18. Speak a foreign language. Pas beaucoup. Mais faites un effort.
19. Approach a woman out of his league. Ever have a shoeshine from a guy you really admire? He works hard enough that he doesn’t have to tell stupid jokes; he doesn’t stare at your legs; he knows things you don’t, but he doesn’t talk about them every minute; he doesn’t scrape or apologize for his status or his job or the way he is dressed; he does his job confidently and with a quiet relish. That stuff is wildly inviting. Act like that guy.
20. Sew a button.
21. Argue with a European without getting xenophobic or insulting soccer.
Once, in our lifetime, much of Europe was approaching cultural and political irrelevance. Then they made like us and banded together into a union of confederated states. So you can always assume that they were simply copying the United States as they now push us to the verge of cultural and political irrelevance.
22. Give a woman an orgasm so that he doesn’t have to ask after it.
Otherwise, ask after it.
23. Be loyal. You will fail at it. You have already. A man who does not know loyalty, from both ends, does not know men. Loyalty is not a matter of give-and-take: He did me a favor, therefore I owe him one. No. No. No. It is the recognition of a bond, the honoring of a shared history, the reemergence of the vows we make in the tight times. It doesn’t mean complete agreement or invisible blood ties. It is a currency of selflessness, given without expectation and capable of the most stellar return.
24. Know his poison, without standing there, pondering like a dope. Brand, amount, style, fast, like so: Booker’s, double, neat.
25. Drive an eightpenny nail into a treated two-by-four without thinking about it.
Use a contractor’s hammer. Swing hard and loose, like a tennis serve.
26. Cast a fishing rod without shrieking or sighing or otherwise admitting defeat.
27. Play gin with an old guy. Old men will try to crush you. They’ll drown you in meaningless chatter, tell stories about when they were kids this or in Korea that. Or they’ll retreat into a taciturn posture designed to get you to do the talking. They’ll note your strategies without mentioning them, keep the stakes at a level they can control, and change up their pace of play just to get you stumbling. You have to do this — play their game, be it dominoes or cribbage or chess. They may have been playing for decades. You take a beating as a means of absorbing the lessons they’ve learned without taking a lesson. But don’t be afraid to take them down. They can handle it.
28. Play go fish with a kid.
You don’t crush kids. You talk their ear off, make an event out of it, tell them stories about when you were a kid this or in Vegas that. You have to play their game, too, even though they may have been playing only for weeks. Observe. Teach them without once offering a lesson. And don’t be afraid to win. They can handle it.
29. Understand quantum physics well enough that he can accept that a quarter might, at some point, pass straight through the table when dropped.
Sometimes the laws of physics aren’t laws at all. Read The Quantum World: Quantum Physics for Everyone, by Kenneth W. Ford.
30. Feign interest. Good place to start: quantum physics.
31. Make a bed.
32. Describe a glass of wine in one sentence without using the terms nutty, fruity, oaky, finish, or kick. I once stood in a wine store in West Hollywood where the owner described a pinot noir he favored as “a night walk through a wet garden.” I bought it. I went to my hotel and drank it by myself, looking at the flickering city with my feet on the windowsill. I don’t know which was more right, the wine or the vision that he placed in my head. Point is, it was right.
33. Hit a jump shot in pool. It’s not something you use a lot, but when you hit a jump shot, it marks you as a player and briefly impresses women. Make the angle of your cue steeper, aim for the bottommost fraction of the ball, and drive the cue smoothly six inches past the contact point, making steady, downward contact with the felt.
34. Dress a wound. First, stop the bleeding. Apply pressure using a gauze pad. Stay with the pressure. If you can’t stop the bleeding, forget the next step, just get to a hospital. Once the bleeding stops, clean the wound. Use water or saline solution; a little soap is good, too. If you can’t get the wound clean, then forget the next step, just get to a hospital. Finally, dress the wound. For a laceration, push the edges together and apply a butterfly bandage. For avulsions, where the skin is punctured and pulled back like a trapdoor, push the skin back and use a butterfly. Slather the area in antibacterial ointment. Cover the wound with a gauze pad taped into place. Change that dressing every 12 hours, checking carefully for signs of infection. Better yet, get to a hospital.
35. Jump-start a car (without any drama). Change a flat tire (safely). Change the oil (once).
36. Make three different bets at a craps table. Play the smallest and most poorly labeled areas, the bets where it’s visually evident the casino doesn’t want you to go. Simply play the pass line; once the point is set, play full odds (this is the only really good bet on the table); and when you want a little more action, tell the crew you want to lay the 4 and the 10 for the minimum bet.
37. Shuffle a deck of cards.
I play cards with guys who can’t shuffle, and they lose. Always.
38. Tell a joke. Here’s one:
Two guys are walking down a dark alley when a mugger approaches them and demands their money. They both grudgingly pull out their wallets and begin taking out their cash. Just then, one guy turns to the other, hands him a bill, and says, “Hey, here’s that $20 I owe you.”
39. Know when to split his cards in blackjack.
Aces. Eights. Always.
40. Speak to an eight-year-old so he will hear. Use his first name. Don’t use baby talk. Don’t crank up your energy to match his. Ask questions and wait for answers. Follow up. Don’t pretend to be interested in Webkinz or Power Rangers or whatever. He’s as bored with that shit as you are. Concentrate instead on seeing the child as a person of his own.
41. Speak to a waiter so he will hear.
You don’t own the restaurant, so don’t act like it. You own the transaction. So don’t speak into the menu. Lift your chin. Make eye contact. All restaurants have secrets — let it be known that you expect to see some of them.
42. Talk to a dog so it will hear.
Go ahead, use baby talk.
43. Install: a disposal, an electronic thermostat, or a lighting fixture without asking for help. Just turn off the damned main.
44. Ask for help.
Guys who refuse to ask for help are the most cursed men of all. The stubborn, the self-possessed, and the distant. The hell with them.
45. Break another man’s grip on his wrist. Rotate your arm rapidly in the grip, toward the other guy’s thumb.
46. Tell a woman’s dress size.
47. Recite one poem from memory. Here you go:
WHEN YOU ARE OLD
When you are old and gray and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
–William Butler Yeats
48. Remove a stain. Blot. Always blot.
49. Say no.
50. Fry an egg sunny-side up. Cook until the white appears solid…and no longer.
51. Build a campfire.
There are three components:
1. The tinder — bone-dry, snappable twigs, about as long as your hand. You need two complete handfuls. Try birch bark; it burns long and hot.
2. The kindling — thick as your thumb, long as your forearm, breakable with two hands. You need two armfuls.
3. Fuel wood — anything thick and long enough that it can’t be broken by hand. It’s okay if it’s slightly damp. You need a knee-high stack.
Step 1: Light the tinder, turning the pile gently to get air underneath it.
Step 2: Feed the kindling into the emergent fire with some pace.
Step 3: Lay on the fuel wood. Pyramid, the log cabin, whatever — the idea is to create some kind of structure so that plenty of air gets to the fire.
52. Step into a job no one wants to do. When I was 13, my dad called me into his office at the large urban mall he ran. He was on the phone. What followed was a fairly banal 15-minute conversation, which involved the collection of rent from a store. On and on, droning about store hours and lighting problems. I kept raising my eyebrows, pretending to stand up, and my dad kept waving me down. I could hear only his end, garrulous and unrelenting. He rolled his eyes as the excuses kept coming. His assertions were simple and to the point, like a drumbeat. He wanted the rent. He wanted the store to stay open when the mall was open. Then suddenly, having given the job the time it deserved, he put it to an end. “So if I see your gate down next Sunday afternoon, I’m going to get a drill and stick a goddamn bolt in it and lock you down for the next week, right?” When he hung up, rent collected, he took a deep breath. “I’ve been dreading that call,” he said. “Once a week you gotta try something you never would do if you had the choice. Otherwise, why are you here?” So he gave me that. And this…
53. Sometimes, kick some ass.
54. Break up a fight. Work in pairs if possible. Don’t get between people initially. Use the back of the collar, pull and urge the person downward. If you can’t get him down, work for distance.
55. Point to the north at any time.
If you have a watch, you can point the hour hand at the sun. Then find the point directly between the hour hand and the 12. That’s south. The opposite direction is, of course, north.
56. Create a play-list in which ten seemingly random songs provide a secret message to one person.
57. Explain what a light-year is. It’s the measure of the distance that light travels over 365.25 days.
58. Avoid boredom. You have enough to eat. You can move. This must be acknowledged as a kind of freedom. You don’t always have to buy things, put things in your mouth, or be delighted.
59. Write a thank-you note.
Make a habit of it. Follow a simple formula like this one: First line is a thesis statement. The second line is evidentiary. The third is a kind of assertion. Close on an uptick.
Thanks for having me over to watch game six. Even though they won, it’s clear the Red Sox are a soulless, overmarketed contrivance of Fox TV. Still, I’m awfully happy you have that huge high-def television. Next time, I really will bring beer. Yours,
60. Be brand loyal to at least one product. It tells a lot about who you are and where you came from. Me? I like Hellman’s mayonnaise and Genesee beer, which makes me the fleshy, stubbornly upstate ne’er-do-well that I will always be.
61. Cook bacon.
Lay out the bacon on a rack on a baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.
62. Hold a baby.
Newborns should be wrapped tightly and held against the chest. They like tight spaces (consider their previous circumstances) and rhythmic movements, so hold them snug, tuck them in the crook of your elbow or against the skin of your neck. Rock your hips like you’re bored, barely listening to the music at the edge of a wedding reception. No one has to notice except the baby. Don’t breathe all over them.
63. Deliver a eulogy. Take the job seriously. It matters. Speak first to the family, then to the outside world. Write it down. Avoid similes. Don’t read poetry. Be funny.
64. Know that Christopher Columbus was a son of a bitch. When I was a kid, because I’m Italian and because the Irish guys in my neighborhood were relentless with the beatings on St. Patrick’s Day, I loved the very idea of Christopher Columbus. I loved the fact that Irish kids worshipped some gnome who drove all the rats out of Ireland or whatever, whereas my hero was an explorer. Man, I drank the Kool-Aid on that guy. Of course, I later learned that he was a hand-chopping, land-stealing egotist who sold out an entire hemisphere to European avarice. So I left Columbus behind. Your understanding of your heroes must evolve. See Roger Clemens. See Bill Belichick.
65-67. Throw a baseball over-hand with some snap. Throw a football with a tight spiral. Shoot a 12-foot jump shot reliably.
If you can’t, play more ball.
68. Find his way out of the woods if lost. Note your landmarks — mountains, power lines, the sound of a highway. Look for the sun: It sits in the south; it moves west. Gauge your direction every few minutes. If you’re completely stuck, look for a small creek and follow it downstream. Water flows toward larger bodies of water, where people live.
69. Tie a knot.
Square knot: left rope over right rope, turn under. Then right rope over left rope. Tuck under. Pull. Or as my pack leader, Dave Kenyon, told me in a Boy Scouts meeting: “Left over right, right over left. What’s so fucking hard about that?”
70. Shake hands. Steady, firm, pump, let go. Use the time to make eye contact, since that’s where the social contract begins.
71. Iron a shirt. My uncle Tony the tailor once told me of ironing: Start rough, end gently.
72. Stock an emergency bag for the car.
Blanket. Heavy flashlight. Hand warmers. Six bottles of water. Six packs of beef jerky. Atlas. Reflectors. Gloves. Socks. Bandages. Neosporin. Inhaler. Benadryl. Motrin. Hard candy. Telescoping magnet. Screwdriver. Channel-locks. Crescent wrench. Ski hat. Bandanna.
73. Caress a woman’s neck. Back of your fingers, in a slow fan.
74. Know some birds. If you can’t pay attention to a bird, then you can’t learn from detail, you aren’t likely to appreciate the beauty of evolution, and you don’t have a clue how birdlike your own habits may be. You’ve been looking at them blindly for years now. Get a guide.
75. Negotiate a better price. Be informed. Know the price of competitors. In a big store, look for a manager. Don’t be an asshole. Use one phrase as your mantra, like “I need a little help with this one.” Repeat it, as an invitation to him. Don’t beg. Ever. Offer something: your loyalty, your next purchase, even your friendship, and, with the deal done, your gratitude.